Rene Girard and secular modernity: Christ, culture, and crisis

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    Australian theologian Scott Cowdell provides the first systematic interpretation of Rene Girard on the twinned themes of secularity and modernity. Girard, America's venerable immortel of the Academie francaise, has honed a remarkable account of human culture and religion over fifty years of research across the humanities and social sciences. Rather than repeating the more usual account of triumphant reason evident in declining religious belief and church affiliation, Girard offers a darker view of secular modernity. It is the progressive winding-back of religion, understood as the covertly violent basis of human order. So while religion is implicated in violence, as its cultured despisers insist, for Girard they entirely misunderstand the relationship. Girard sees religion emerging as a necessary evil, containing rivalry's potentially catastrophic escalation by the memory of primal cathartic violence. Rooted in the management of our unfocused and unstable desiring, religion's targeted, culture-founding violence is encoded in prohibitions, myths, and rituals. Yet in the Judaeo-Christian vision, religion transcends its origins. The victim-making engine of all religions and cultures is sabotaged by the Bible, according to Girard, setting history on a secularizing path towards modernity. This is Nietzsche's death of God properly understood: the collapse of religion's social function and the release of a dangerous instability that Girard charts up to the present. Biblical apocalyptic, as in Jesus' claim not to bring peace but a sword, is thus understood as a prediction of how human history will unfold without its customary religious protections. The only alternative, for Girard, is to follow Jesus' undermining of this whole religious mechanism, and his commitment to establishing human togetherness on a non-violent foundation.In our age of totalizing conflict, endemic civil war, and entrenched terrorism, Rene Girard emerges in Cowdell's clear and comprehensive treatment as a global prophet who demands our attention.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationNotre Dame, IN., USA
    PublisherUniversity of Notre Dame Press
    Number of pages259
    ISBN (Electronic)9780268076979
    ISBN (Print)9780268023744
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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